Africa’s smartphone revolution

norm_13Smartphone use in Africa is on the rise, and major mobile makers and distributors are starting to pay attention to the emerging African market by producing devices that cater to the needs of the developing region. How will increased smartphone use revolutionise the way education takes place in Africa?

By Matthew Labrooy

Smartphone growth in Africa has increased by 43% every year since 2000, and experts predict that 69% of mobiles in Africa will have Internet access by 2014. As a result, smartphone manufacturers are showing increased interest in the region in a bid to gain their share of half a billion potential customers. Currently a simple budget smartphone produced for the African market is available on the streets of Kenya for as little as €37 (US$50) and has sold more than 300,000 units across the country.

Smartphone penetration in Africa is estimated between 17-19%, though rates vary wildly from country to country. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has a smartphone penetration as high as 41%. Emmanuel Revmatas of Samsung Electronics West Africa explains the sudden influx of smartphone use in the country, saying: “The advent of new privately owned submarine cables and their landing on the coast of many East and West African nations, including Nigeria, have significantly reduced the cost of Internet access and increased the adoption of smartphones on the Continent.”

Whilst many other major smartphone producers have been concentrating their efforts in Asia, it is only a matter of time before other manufacturers focus their marketing sights on the African market. Mark Kaigwa, a digital marketing expert and keynote speaker at the upcoming eLearning Africa conference, explains the sudden interest in the region by smartphone manufactures: “About 35% of Africans are now considered middle class…[as such] Africa economically, growth-wise and GDP-wise is looking like a great contender and great emerging market, and mobile is at the heart of that”.

Spurred by the success of the African budget smartphone, Microsoft has produced a smartphone specifically for the African Market, the Huawei 4Afrika, which was released in South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Angola, and Morocco in February 2013.

But how will smartphone uptake affect the future of education in Africa’s developing nations?

The future looks positive, with educational apps already being used successfully throughout the Continent. For example: despite low smartphone penetration in the region, more than 2,000 students and 100 staff at Inoorero University in Kenya are using Google apps to assist in their education.

However, mLearning can still take place without the Internet and smartphones. Initiatives such as the Zambian National Agricultural Information Service’s SMS service are using existing mobile technology to provide farmers with essential education. The programme delivers how-to guides to crop production, livestock production, agricultural marketing, agricultural policies and climate change, and has already begun to “assist Zambian farmers achieve food security, a greener economy, and economic success”, according to eLearning Africa speaker Darlington Kahilu.

But once smartphone penetration rates increase, will students still need to attend a physical classroom for their education? Outsourcing for education may soon become a reality: once students and teachers are no longer together in a physical classroom, it becomes immaterial whether they are in a neighbouring city or on another continent. It is only a matter of time before online learning businesses worldwide notice the opportunity that smartphone uptake in Africa provides and begin offering their educational services, be it for language learning or formal education.

No doubt the education revolution, spurred by increasing smartphone penetration in Africa, will be a hot topic at the upcoming eLearning Africa. The 2013 edition takes place in Windhoek, Namibia, May 29th – 31st.



What are your views on smartphones in Africa? What role do you think they will play in education across the Continent? Please share your thoughts with us by commenting below.


  1. I’d love to see more current statistics on the penetration and usage of smart phones in the region. I can see the appeal of learning entirely on a mobile device, which this article seemed to indicate was a potential future.

  2. Increased smartphone penetration is only the first step, if education institutions don’t evolve and create tools that harness the potential of these devices, then its nothing but a device to check facebook.

    • Rebecca, I live in Africa and there a smartphone is way more than a “device to check facebook”. I leave these useless way to use it to you.

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